Eating places grapple with vaccine mandates in tight labor market

To commission or not to commission?

That’s the question restaurant owners and operators face in one of the toughest hiring environments in decades. The Food and Drug Administration on Monday approved Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine, opening the door for jobs to opt for workers to request the vaccination. But between improved unemployment benefits, hesitation about Covid, hurdles in childcare and more, the industry is already facing a shortage of available labor, and adding a vaccine mandate could go both ways.

Major players in the industry have largely kept silent about vaccination mandates for restaurant staff. McDonald’s recently postponed its return date to October 11 and announced that its U.S. employees must be fully vaccinated by September 27, with exceptions due to religious or medical reasons.

Chipotle CFO Jack Hartung told CNBC this week after FDA approval that the company was seeking feedback from employees and had not yet made a decision on whether to grant membership, but was in “active discussions” on the matter. The company has encouraged employees to get the vaccine, Hartung said, adding that he hoped the FDA approval could help those on the fence take the step to vaccination.

In New York City, restaurant workers are required to receive at least one dose of Covid vaccination as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Key to NYC Pass program, which began this month and will be enforced on Sept. 13. Philippe Massoud, owner and chef at Ilili and Ilili Box, said the mandate was not an issue for most of his employees. But he has lost two, possibly three workers who refused to be vaccinated and the labor shortage means he is short of about 20 workers in total.

“Of course it worsens the situation,” he said of workers leaving the mandate. “We hope that they will change their minds over time. … You are also dealing with the flood of the Delta variant, which also creates its own complexity. So we’re getting hit a bit from everywhere. “

In Austin, Texas, restaurateur Eric Silverstein owns The Peached Tortilla and Fat City and said about 95% of his workforce is vaccinated. The company sponsored vaccinations, paid workers $ 30 for vaccination, and set it up through Human Resources, but it waived the need for workers to be vaccinated.

“We had such a high level of involvement in the voluntary sourcing of the vaccine, I didn’t feel we had to make it mandatory,” he said, adding that all workers in his indoor restaurants are wearing masks.

But there are ramifications for those who choose not to use the vaccine.

“If you get breakthrough Covid even though you are vaccinated, we will pay you your time off so that you do not have to come by and other people fall ill. However, if you are not vaccinated.” , we don’t offer that, “he said.

The labor shortage was not taken into account in his decision on the vaccine policy, said Silverstein.

But for some it is difficult to separate the question of work from the question of whether or not vaccinations should be made mandatory for workers.

David Barr owns 44 KFC and Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop franchise locations in Alabama and Georgia. While he has concerns about hiring as a small business owner from a legal standpoint, he is also pondering what such a staffing requirement could mean.

“We decided to encourage vaccinations instead of making them mandatory,” Barr said. “Both because of the shortage of manpower today – we might not want to lose another 20 to 30% of our employees – and from a political point of view, to look in DC or in the Statehouse, what the policy should look like with regard to vaccines. “

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